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Annals of the F.O. Ranch, Chapter 2

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Peggy Cole is a self-published author who enjoys writing fiction stories, book reviews and articles about simpler times.

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Two Pair of Shoes

Campers knew that to get the best tent location you had to get there first on Friday. If they could get off work early, they could lock down a flat stretch of ground away from the noisy foot path and the firepit. Couples liked secluded spots while night owls pitched their tents close to the action.

New recruits joined the group mostly after a chance meeting with one of the regulars at the pool or laundry room. First-timers that never returned were known as one-shot Johnnies. Venturing out of their comfort zone into the rustic lack of accommodations wasn’t for everyone. But for those who did, a bit of drama could be expected each trip.

Paula, a first-timer and two other regulars showed up late one Friday evening, bringing along what was sure to become a full-blown conflict. At first sight of the trio, Clare hopped out of her chair and guided one of the three away from the fire pit.

“I gotta’ show you something,” she told the newcomer guiding her down the weedy path towards the dock. They made their way to the far end where they sat so close their heads nearly touched. They made ripples with their toes as the last rays of sun light dipped below the waterline. Cheryl began to sniffle.

Clare had hoped her friend hadn’t noticed the shoes in front of Carson’s tent. But in the few seconds by the fire, she’d already spotted Michelle’s clodhoppers snugged up next to Carson’s boots. Clare broke the silence.

“We weren’t expecting you this trip.”

“That’s pretty obvious,” Cheryl sputtered. She'd intentionally told someone she was supposed to work all weekend. Word had gotten around.

Her tone softened when she said, “I found someone to take my shift.”

“I don’t think he meant to hurt you,” Clare said. “He’s just obtuse.”

“No doubt about that.” Cheryl wiped away a tear that rolled down her cheek. The ripples from their toes formed circles in the water. A bird skimmed low across the surface leaving a tiny wake.

“If you still have feelings for him, why’d you break up?”

Cheryl thought for a bit, remembering that Clare and Carson met in middle school. They’d never been a couple.

“It’s okay,” Clare told her. “You can tell me.”

Cheryl’s need to confide in someone won over against discretion.

“We were out on a date,” she paused remembering the night, “and for some reason he mentioned his brother-in-law.”

“His brother-in-law?”

“That’s exactly what I wanted to know. So I asked him if he didn’t mean his ex-brother-in-law."

“What was his answer?”

She mimed the conversation with Carson including his grunts and gestures.

“I asked him, ‘So, is he your brother-in-law or your ex-brother-in-law?’”

He just shrugged and grunted.

“I told him there was no almost about it. It’s was yes or a no answer.”

“He told me, ‘Well, he’s not exactly my ex-brother-in-law.’”

“What does that mean, not exactly? You told me you were divorced.”

“I never said that.”

“But,” she sputtered, “you have your own apartment at the complex.” Cheryl’s voice had risen to a squeak.

“We’re separated,” he answered. “That’s the same thing.”

“No, it most definitely is NOT.”

Cheryl had fumed the rest of the drive back to her apartment, slamming the car door and running up the stairs without another word. Once inside, she thought about the out of state job she’d taken months earlier. She and Carson had stayed in touch through regular phone calls and letters that she’d saved rereading them often. Now, tears fell on the handwritten pages she’d once treasured.

“I moved back here to be with him,” she told Clare who listened thinking about her friendship with Carson. She already knew that he was still married and that he and his wife had lived apart. For years.

“Their arrangement works for them,” she said. They shared custody of their adopted daughter. Carson’s practicality justified his using them as a tax deduction. Clare also knew his so-called wife. She frowned at the thought of her, a high-maintenance, self-centered Prima Donna.

“You probably don’t know this,” Clare said, “but after you left town, Carson and Michelle had a fling.”

“Seriously? He never mentioned that either.” She became indignant. “You should have read the letters he sent,” she fumed. “Romantic nonsense. What a fool I’ve been.” She began to cry in earnest.

The two women sat for a long while enveloped in the sounds of the cool night. When Cheryl’s tears were finally spent, she squared her shoulders, sniffed loudly and changed the subject.

They sat close together on the rickety dock.

They sat close together on the rickety dock.

“Why don’t you tell me what’s going on with you and Jess? I could use a distraction.”

It was the first time Clare had told anyone about her situation.

“Things aren’t like they used to be for me and Jess,” she began. “We’re going through a rough patch.”

“What’s going on?” Cheryl was taken aback. Clare and Jess’ long-term relationship served as an example of hope for the couples in the group, not only for those at the camp, but for her work friends and family as well. They’d been together the longest of anyone she knew.

“He’s lost his job at the university,” she said, her eyes turned down to the hands flailing in her lap.

“Oh, no!”

“He’s not handling it well at all.” Cheryl studied her friend as if seeing her for the first time.

“It’s not the only job around. With his skills . . .” she let the sentence fade not really knowing what skills Jess had.

“He told me he’s tired of living,” Clare confided. “He’s seeing a shrink twice a week. Maybe that’ll help.”

“Why didn’t you tell me?” Cheryl asked.

“He didn’t want anyone to know.”

The two women sat for a while longer, returning arm in arm to the camp. The two pair of shoes at Carson’s tent were reduced to one pair. Sleeping quarters had been rearranged to put Michelle’s sleeping bag on the floor of Rob and Martha’s tiny cabin.

Cheryl stared into the flames of the campfire. It seemed as if everything shone in a new light. Deep down, she knew she’d survive this and move on just as she’d done in the past.

The tension mounted with the late arrival of 3 new campers at the site.

The tension mounted with the late arrival of 3 new campers at the site.

She located her friend, Paula, a first-timer to the group and they moved into a borrowed tent where they settled in for the night. That was until Paula’s moans had awakened her.

Paula moaned again and rolled onto her side clutching her stomach. Cheryl sat upright in the sleeping bag that surrounded her like a cocoon. By the glow of the moon filtering in through the tent wall, she could see Paula’s hand pressed tightly against her abdomen.

“What’s wrong?” she asked.

“I hurt.” The next moan was alarmingly loud and so long that conversation paused around the fire pit beyond the tent.

“Where does it hurt?”

“It’s my right side.”

“What did you eat tonight?”

“I didn’t.”

Cheryl lay back down and wondered what they would do if Paula’s pain got worse. They were miles from nearly everything but an old country store twenty minutes up the highway.

“Do you need to go to the hospital?” she asked.

“No, I’ll be alright.”

The scream came out of nowhere. One minute the women were fast asleep. The next instant a frightening shriek erupted at full volume. Cheryl grabbed the flashlight and turned the beam on Paula. She was curled up with her knees drawn to her chest. She moaned again, long and low, her eyes full of pain and fear. They heard footsteps outside the tent.

“Is everybody okay in there?” Rob called from the firepit. It was after midnight and most of the campers had already drifted off to find somewhere to sleep. He and Alan were the last of the night owls.

“No,” Cheryl whispered. “There’s something wrong with Paula.” The beam of his flashlight pierced the darkness and landed on Paula’s face.

“Uh, oh,” he said.

Miles from Nowhere - Cat Stevens

Want to Start at the Beginning?

  • Annals of the F.O. Ranch, Chapter 1
    A quiet lakefront parcel in the scenic woods is home to a group of friends that camp out often for water skiing, hiking, outdoor grilling and late-night sing-alongs around an open fire. Friendships and relationships evolve as couples drift in and out

© 2021 Peg Cole

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